Du’s Donuts: ‘Top Chef’ delivers elevated comfort food to Darien

DARIEN — One reason Chef Wylie Dufresne got into the doughnut business is because “they’ve been around long enough to prove they aren’t a fad.”

“No disrespect to the cupcake,” he added. “I’m not going into the cupcake business.”

Dufresne said the circular, fried batter with a hole in the middle is an adored part of American food nostalgia.

“Whether it is recent or ancient, there are few people who don’t have a good memory related to a doughnut,” he said.

Dufresne, who has had a home in Lyme for a decade, is sharing his elevated Du’s Donuts in Darien via a partnership with the Corbin District.

The doughnuts can be ordered earlier in the week for pickup the following Saturday. The order deadline for this week is at 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 15. Visit CorbinDistrict.com under events for details.

During tough times like the COVID-19 pandemic, people long for comfort food that is like a “hug,” Dufresne said.

“For a lot of Americans, and especially New Englanders, of which I am one,” said the Rhode Island native, “a doughnut is always going to be nostalgic.”

Dufresne said the doughnut holds “a place in people’s hearts, minds and stomachs.”

He and his team are encouraged by the response to the doughnuts and hope the partnership continues.

Dufresne, who is familiar to viewers of “Top Chef,” “Master Chef,” “Beat Bobby Flay,” “Top Chef Masters” and “Iron Chef,” started Du’s Donuts in 2017. He was awarded a Michelin star for his New York City restaurant wd-50 and named a James Beard best chef in New York City. Food & Wine magazine also named Dufresne one of America’s 10 best new chefs.

“Long before Wylie was aerating foie gras at his renowned New York City restaurant wd-50, he was enjoying assorted treats his great-grandfather would bring home from the Ever Good Donut Shop in Rhode Island, where he was a baker,” the website for Du’s Donuts says.

“Fast forward through a decorated culinary career, and Dufresne has set his mind to mastering the item that shaped some of his earliest memories, and that captures the heart of food lovers the world over: the simple, irresistible donut,” it says.

About Du’s Donuts

Dufresne and his team work in a commissary in Brooklyn with a small cafe at the front but distribute most of the doughnuts to large and small eateries throughout New York.

Du’s Donuts are baked from scratch, which he said is not the case for nine out of 10 bakeries that make that claim. He said most bakery-prepared doughnuts are created from a prepared mixture.

“We are sourcing good ingredients and making the doughnuts ourselves in Brooklyn,” he said.

For Darien, Dufresne offers a special selection: a blueberry doughnut that has consistently been their top seller, a coffee cake doughnut, an old-fashioned doughnut, and a black-and-white doughnut that is a play on the classic New York City cookie.

However, it’s made with chocolate and key lime, instead of the expected vanilla.

“We’re trying to have fun with it,” Dufresne said. Though his black-and-white doughnut is normally Nutella-flavored instead of chocolate, several Darien customers expressed concerns over nut allergies. To accommodate, Dufresne was happy to change it to straight chocolate.

Ties to Darien

Like the Italian grocery order from Brooklyn, the Du’s Donuts partnership was spearheaded by David Genovese and the Corbin District. Genovese and Dufresne both attended Colby College in Maine. The chef said he has many close friends in Darien, including a college roommate.

But it’s been a tough time for Du’s Donuts, which, like many other food establishments, was forced to close temporarily due to the coronavirus. But early on, it got a large order from a New York-based school to thank its staff. Later, Du’s Donuts got an order to send food to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, one of the most intensely impacted by pandemic patients, Dufresne said.

Due to the struggles during the COVID-19 era, consumers have a new appreciation of how independent restaurants contribute to a community, Dufresne said. But he said the government has not come around far enough.

“There was some help from the PPP, but there’s still more work to be done,” he said of the Paycheck Protection Program, which offered loans to small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.

“I don’t think the public or the government realized how much of a percentage of the actual employment pool is made up by the small-time operator until the rug was pulled out from them,” Dufresene said.

He added that 14 million people in the United States work for restaurants that were impacted by the pandemic shutdowns.

“I hope something this catastrophic shined a light on this industry. But unfortunately, and I say this with a heavy heart, I believe there will be a mass extinction, a culling of the herd. There are just going to be some people who just can’t find their way back,” Dufresne said.

He added that this is especially the case in states that are not managing their reopenings as well as New York and Connecticut.

“The margins are already very small in restaurants, and for the independent contractor, to claw back finally to get open, and then hear we are going to have to close again for another three to four weeks — that can be unsustainable for the independent person in an already fragile business,” he said.

Dufresne said the restaurant and food industry is trying to figure out how to “pivot” in these uncertain times.

“God bless David for sending this to us, because it wasn’t an avenue I’d even considered,” he said of the new type of partnership with the Corbin District.

The Corbin effort

The Corbin District is also partnering with another Brooklyn establishment, MP Specialties’ Pasta & Groceries, with deliveries on Fridays.

MP, a curated virtual store by Chef Missy Robbins of Lilia and Misi in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, makes its deliveries to Grove Street Plaza. Customers can choose between an Italian gourmet pantry basket or a make-at-home pasta kit.

Dufresne said that as a longtime Connecticut resident, he and his team are excited to participate in the Darien project.

He recalled his great-grandfather’s work in a bakery and how he brought doughnuts home. And he also remembers enjoying Dunkin’ Donuts with his grandparents as a child. His aim is to create some of those memories for families in Darien.

“I’m hoping that it becomes part of something that people are excited to see. I’m hoping they are enthusiastic and it is something they look forward to each week,” he said of the deliveries of Du’s Donuts.

For more information on Du’s Donuts, visit www.dusdonuts.com/. To learn more about Corbin District events, visit www.thecorbindistrict.com/events/.